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Relay for Life to light up the night

Tribune file photo In this undated photo, Logan Krug, 9, of Atwater, left, and his brother, Hayden, 12, set out a luminary bag they made in honor of their Grandma Judy following her death from ovarian cancer. Tribune file photo

WILLMAR -- Hundreds of candles will light the night for the American Cancer Society's 18th annual Kandiyohi County Relay for Life tonight at the Willmar Middle School.

The relay starts at 6 p.m. today and doesn't end until 6 a.m. Saturday. More than 300 volunteers will be camped on the school grounds all night, raising both money and awareness for cancer.

The Relay for Life is a time to be happy for those who have survived cancer and to remember those whose lives were claimed by the disease, said Shawn Madsen, chairman of the event.

"Obviously we're celebrating," he said. "It's tears of joy and it's tears for other people. There's a lot of people who are remembered."

The relay is one of the largest charity fundraisers in Kandiyohi County. Organizers have a goal this year of raising $142,500 for cancer research, advocacy and support.

Last year 1.5 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the United States. About half of these people ultimately will die of their disease. Although the overall death rate is declining, cancer continues to account for about one in four deaths in the U.S. It's also the leading cause of death for adults age 40 to 79.

These statistics resonate personally with many people, Madsen said.

It's not hard to find someone who's had a personal encounter with cancer, whether it's someone in their family, a friend or a co-worker, he said. "When you sit down and start talking to people, it doesn't take long for that circle to get big. It's one of the reasons why we do what we do."

"We do it to support those who have been touched by cancer in one way or another," said Helaine Bolter of the St. Mary's Marchers, one of the 30 teams signed up to participate in this year's Kandiyohi County Relay for Life.

She and the 14 other people who make up the St. Mary's Marchers plan to arrive at the middle school on Willmar Avenue at around 1 p.m. today to set up their tent and get ready.

Last week they were hard at work making Special K bars on a stick, which they'll be selling tonight to raise money. They'll also have caramel rolls and pretzels for sale, along with flashing crosses for relay participants to wear during the night. "As soon as it gets dark, we get to sell a few of those," Bolter said.

Other teams have organized garage sales, bake sales, golf tournaments and even a snowmobile ride to contribute to the cause.

"It's just rewarding to see everyone come together," Bolter said.

"We have really great teams," Madsen said. "The public has supported the relay very well. We've had a good turnout and we hope that continues."

One aspect of the event that keeps growing is the survivor walk, an honorary lap around the track that will take place during the luminary lighting ceremony, at about 8:30 p.m. Between 100 and 120 cancer survivors are expected to register this year, Madsen said.

Among their ranks will be the Madsens' 11-year-old son, Zachary, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when he was three months old.

"We call him an 11-year survivor," Madsen said. "He's been in the survivor walk every year. He was 5 or 6 when he decided to do it himself."

For the volunteers and members of the public who attend the relay, the survivor walk is perhaps one of the most bittersweet moments of the entire event, he said. "It runs the gamut of emotions."

Last year the relay ended early because of a thunderstorm. With the heat wave over, "we're planning for a great event," Madsen said. "We're hoping for a great event and hoping the weather will be great."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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